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Forget Karma (the action), look at the Karta (the actor) || Acharya Prashant, with XLRI (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
5 min
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Questioner: Sir, I have read that karma means action, what one thinks consciously and subconsciously, what one does. Our future action depends on the karma of the past and the present. But there is a thing in circulation these days that says that karma is actually a boomerang: if you do something, it will come back at you in some form in the future. How is it possible that everything comes back to us like that? If that is true, what is the force that is actually taking care of that particular karma?

Acharya Prashant: See, the moment you say that karma is something that comes around to you, as is the popular saying, then you are postponing, relegating the fruit of your actions to the future, aren’t you? Now, first of all, then we allow ourselves this uncertainty, that what we have done, its result may or may not come to us; second, even if it is certain that the result is indeed going to be received by us, it would happen in the future, at an uncertain date in the future, and no one knows how long in the future it might take. So, the entire power, the kick, is quite lost.

The real meaning and the real implication of karma is quite different. Vedanta and all wisdom focus not so much on the action, which is karma, but on the actor. The actor is the primary entity. If the actor is conscious, awake, he understands, then one need not bother too much about the actions, one need not scrutinize the action so much. The action would naturally be alright.

But if the actor himself or herself is in a hazy state, badly influenced, heavily conditioned, then one need not wait for the results of the action. I like to say that the results of the action come even before the action, because the actor comes before the action. A bad state of the actor is in itself a lot of suffering. So, you don’t have to wait for the results.

Let’s say you go for some pathetic deed. Now, how could you have committed that action without firstly being pathetic inwards? And if you are bad and rotten inside, then what bigger punishment can you receive? The punishment has already been received. Future becomes immaterial. One need not look at the future to ascertain whether or not the fellow was rewarded or punished for what he did, because the punishment or the reward comes before the action.

However, we fail to see that because we have a very unfortunate power to be heavily acclimatized; we become kind of used to suffering. When you become used to suffering, you don’t see that you are suffering. And it is a funny situation: then that the suffering one says, “I did such and such things, now I want to test whether I would receive suffering as a result of my acts.” Why do you need to receive suffering in the future? What you did arose out of your pre-existing suffering.

So, that’s the way it is. And also, this makes various catchphrases like ‘karmic account’ and ‘karmic balance’ all quite meaningless, because they are all born out of a very shallow understanding of karma.

See, you and I address each other as ‘you’ and ‘I’. So, this ‘I’ is our primary identity, right? This ‘I’ is the actor, thinker, doer, understander—everything. So, the purpose of wisdom is to deal with this ‘I’. All that this ‘I’ does etc. comes way later; far more exampled than the deed is the doer, because the doer is the ‘I’. And why are we talking so much about this ‘I’? Because that is our primary identity. You say, “I am happy, I am sad.” You don’t say anything that doesn’t directly or indirectly contain ‘I’.

You stand at the center of your own personal universe, right? And it is for your own betterment that you turn to wisdom, or to management studies, or to anything else in life. Therefore, it is commonsensical that talking about actions, and then the rewards of actions, and then the subsequent future and such things, doesn’t make much sense; rather, we need to come to the primary entity that concerns us, and that primary entity is the ‘I’.

So, we have to talk of the doer, the actor—this one that we are, the one we associate ourselves with, the one we live our lives as.

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